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Prince Hubert of Bad Bentheim

Amsterdam, September 4, 2001
A little while ago, Peppermint Patty and I visited a castle
in Germany, just over the border from The Netherlands. We
had gone there ostensibly to get our passports stamped, as
the Dutch have a rule that you can't hang around here
longer than three months at a stretch without leaving the
country. I was tossing stash out of the car all the way to
the border.

As it turned out, it being a Saturday and all, the frontier
station was closed; we just drove into Germany without
getting our passports stamped. When we got to the castle I
was thinking about maybe getting the lady at the gate to
write a little note in our passports saying we'd been
there, but Patty said that probably wouldn't work. I said,
"Why not? Look, she's German. We could INSIST." Patty
said yes, we could probably bully her into doing something
weird like that, but the Dutchguys would not think it was
funny at all, or even acceptable, to have our passports
initialed by some little old German lady at a castle gate
entrance. So we're grossly illegal over here now, but not
for want of trying. Anyway...

The name of the Castle is Bad Bentheim. There is no such
place as GOOD Bentheim, as it turns out that Bad is German
for Bath, and the place has, I don't know, a hot spring or
something. I was more than somewhat disappointed.
At the bottom of the hill it sits on is a village called,
not surprisingly, Bentheim. It's a touristy little place,
all built of the same stone as the castle. This area is
where everybody, including the eastern part of Holland,
gets their construction stone. But there's also lots of
beer and bratwurst to be had, so we had some.

Well, neither of us had ever seen like a real castle
before...I mean we'd been to Viscaya in Miami and the
Hearst place in Cali, but those are, at best, palaces, and
very American to boot. This was a real CASTLE, with a
keep, walls and everything. Having read encyclopedias all
my young life while waiting to have sex, I was able to
point out various aspects of typical castle construction to
Patty...postern, keep, dungeon, that kind of stuff. She
dutifully acted interested.

The most imposing part of Bad Bentheim castle is the Keep.
A keep is the part of the castle that is the most
impregnable(I have to complain about the English language
here: we say "Impregnated" when we mean someone has been,
to say the very least, penetrated. But we say
"Impregnable" when we mean that something is impossible to
get into. Go figure.) Anyway, the first thing one notices
about the castle is the Keep. This is a huge, square
structure, very tall, and the original guys who lived
around Bentheim used to pour boiling oil down on each other
from here. Not a lot of fun, certainly, at least for the
pourees, and now that I think about it I don't know where
they got the oil, as there was no Royal Dutch Shell around
at the time. Maybe they were like McDonald's and used beef
tallow or something.

The Keep was the first part of the castle to be built,
sometime around 900 they started on it. Well, you don't go
and build a castle just any old where: you gotta put it on
higher ground, the better to pour beef tallow on each
other. And so this sucker is, using that triangulation
thing I learned in the Boy Scouts, still waiting for sex,
about 62.3 feet tall. But it sits up on top of this butte
which rises suddenly, rockily, and very steeply out of the
surrounding meadows, so it is very high up indeed, with
walls about twelve feet thick at the base running all
around the top of the hill. In the bottom of the Keep is
the dungeon, where people used to be mean to each other.
Chains, dark and dank, and also little bitty rooms with
barred gates on them, too low to stand, too small to lie
down or even sit in. We didn't hang around in there very
The second thing that got built was, you probably guessed
it, the Chapel. Now the reason they would build the Chapel
asap has to do with the unholy alliance the Church had with
the nobility of the time. And it was like this: say you
were a guy born not very well placed. Well, without the
Church, you might start saying to yourself, why the hell am
I hanging around here hauling rocks and plowing with a
stick for this asshole in the Keep? I oughta just go to
Holland and raise tulips or something...the ground's a lot
softer over there. But with the Church in place, and you
being all superstitious and everthang, no encyclopedias
around, and you not being able to read anyway if there
were, anyway the Church would tell you some shit like,
well, the Prince is your shepherd and you're one of his
flock, so you gotta lift that barge and tote that bale,
figuratively speaking of course... Besides, they EAT German
peasants in the Netherlands. But if you hang around here
and haul rocks and plow with a stick, you'll get to go to
Heaven. And if you don't you're gonna ROAST IN HELL!!!
And, poor you, you'd believe them because after all they
did talk to Jesus every day and God himself every once in a
while, unless they were the Pope, in which case they'd have
a running dialogue with the BigManHimself all the time.
So, would these people who talked to Jesus all the time lie
to you? Of course not. So you'd hang and haul and hope
not to get spattered with tallow the next time the thugs
from over the river came calling and you had to go running
up to the Keep.
In return, the Church got to share the roast oxen.
The Castle itself was the last part to get built. It is,
seen from above, in the shape of a section of a circle.
Three stories in all, the topmost of which we couldn't
enter, because the current Prince, Hubert, still lives
Well, we wandered around in there a bit, looking at armor
and weapons and stuff. Also some fine
Prussian-looking-to-me-anyway uniforms. And I couldn't
help but think about the armor these noble guys all wore
making THEM impregnable while they were loppping off
peasants' heads from the other side of the river.

And the circular logic of it all:
"Hey, why is this guy the Prince?"
"Because he lives in the Keep."
"Well, why does HE get to live in the Keep?"
"Because he's the Prince."

Frankly, the Castle was a little disappointing: some
portraits (by Dutch guys, of course) of some
not-very-attractive ladies and guys with receding chins.
Some fine lacework. Some great parquet and tile work.
Maybe the really good stuff is on the third floor with
We went back outside. There, under an overhang, I saw a
bunch of antlers hanging on the wall, all dated, from 1925
to 1944. Apparently one of the Princes had a habit of
busting Bambis that continued even through the War. I
guess something happened in 1945 that took up a lot more of
his time from then on.
Back around at the front of the Castle, we looked, and
there was a small door. There was a doorbell and
underneath it a little card that said "Prince Hubert of
Bentheim". We didn't ring, of course, as that would have
been rude, but I did want to see if maybe Hubert himself
would come down if we did. But I'll never know.

Now the doorbell and card made me aware that there was
STILL a Prince in residence after over a thousand years.
And so I got off onto a lot of speculation as to what it
must be like to be Prince Hubert.

Finally we left through the main Castle gate, out there by
the Keep, and for the first time we noticed that there were
a couple of newspaper boxes on a post out there: The
Bentheim Dagblad and the Berlin Times. So we stood around
there looking at them for a while, and imagining the Prince
coming out in the morning before the tourists arrived, to
get his paper. In his robe and slippers, coffee cup in
hand, maybe a cigarette dangling from his lower lip.

What parts of the paper would the Prince be interested in?
Probably not much of the Bentheim Dagblad; he owns the
village, so he would already have known long ago what the
burgermeister was gonna be up to this summer. Maybe not
much of the front section of the Berlin Times either.
Sports pages, maybe. Financial section certainly.
Probably the society columns. Obituaries to see if any
other nobles had died off.

So, as I'm standing there speculating, and maybe being a
little resentful that I don't get to live in the Castle, it
occurs to me that maybe Prince Hubert is resentful that he
has to be a Prince. Like he's all shut up in the Castle
and all, except every six months or so he has to go to some
function or other and hang out with other nobles. At these
functions, he gets introduced to some Duchess's niece or
something...she's a not-very-attractive lady. But the
Duchess is hopeful of making a good match for her, and
Hubert, receding chin and all, is the reluctant target.
And what does HE want out of life? I mean, if I'm thinking
maybe I'd like to be a Prince and live in a castle, what
would Hubert aspire to, what does he do all this time,
trapped by circumstance on the third floor of the Castle?
And then it came to me: I think Prince Hubert sits up
there on the third floor of the castle listening to Robert
Johnson records and wishing he could be a delta blues
singer. And, sitting up there all alone, none of the other
nobles appreciating it, even if they were there to hear
him, he is a motherfucker on slide guitar.